Chambri - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Chambri society is largely egalitarian with all patricians, except those linked through marriage, considered potential equals. For affinally related clans, wife givers are regarded as superior to wife takers. Gender relations are also of relative equality, with men and women operating in largely autonomous spheres. The Chambri never developed a strong male-oriented military organization in large part because, as valued providers of specialized commodities, they were left in relative peace. Relations of trade mitigated also against the development of male dominance because Chambri men could not have appreciably increased the flow of valuables to themselves through the control of women and their products.

Political Organization. Through his own marriage(s) and those of his junior agnates, a Chambri man becomes immersed in complex obligations that provide him with the opportunity of achieving political eminence. The struggle to make impressive affinal payments generates widespread competition in which men try to show that they are at least the equal of all others in their capacity to compensate wife givers. Those individuals and patricians unable to compete in the politics of affinal exchange are likely to become subsumed as clients of those who are more successful. In addition, since 1975 when Papua New Guinea became a nation, the Chambri have voted in, and have often provided candidates for, local, regional, provincial, and national elections.

Social Control. In the past, and still to a limited extent, internal and external social control was maintained through violence or threats of violence focusing on sorcery and raiding. Conflicts were and are resolved through debates in men's houses; today, as well, the Chambri have recourse to the judicial procedures of the state, such as local and regional courts. For Chambri living in Wewak, the police are often called in when conflict threatens to get out of control. In most of these cases when police help is sought, the dispute is subsequently settled with payment of damages, determined during a Community meeting, followed by a ceremony of reconciliation.

Conflict. Although, as mentioned, the Chambri lived in relative peace with their neighbors, they were, on occasion, both perpetrators and victims of the head-hunting raids that were both sources and indicators of ritual power.

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